By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
WAYNE Munroe, counsel for the marines accused of causing harm to Cuban detainees at the Detention Centre, said he will challenge the government’s decision to have a closed court with three independent observers.
Five Defence Force marines – one a petty officer, a leading seaman, two able seamen, and a marine seamen – were officially charged at the Defence Force Base in Coral Harbour on Monday, following an investigation into claims of abuse at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
The proceedings are not criminal, but disciplinary, their lawyer explained. But the “real issue”, Mr Munroe continued, is the government’s intention to permit three observers to attend the hearings.
This was announced by National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage last week Tuesday, when he also said the hearings “will be held in camera” and a “full report” of the proceedings will be issued at the conclusion.
“It’s either open or it’s closed,” Mr Munroe said, yesterday. “It has to be either open or closed. On what basis would these three people be empowered to sit in on a closed hearing?”
He added: “If they have a proposition about recording closed proceedings, about letting in third parties into closed proceedings over which we will object – that matter we will be taking to the Supreme Court and Judicial Review.”
When asked his preference between a closed or open proceeding, Mr Munroe said: “I think that the Defence Force marines should be treated just like the police officers are and there should be a board of inquiry – which is an open proceeding.
“If it’s closed, it’s closed. If it’s open, it’s open. There’s a choice that they can have a closed hearing or an open hearing. But you can’t have a cross between the two.”
The accused marines will be pleading their innocence, Mr Munroe confirmed, explaining the proceedings are in a way similar to that of a Magistrate’s court, but with different penalties.
“The penalties are disciplinary instead of criminal. But for somebody who has taken up a vocation of service, a disciplinary finding is as bad to them as a criminal finding – and in some cases, worse,” he said.
“There’s some penalties, for instance, there’s an offence of permitting somebody to escape. And if they were to do that, that’s two years imprisonment. So if they had sat down and said we’re not going to touch anybody, they’d be in prison for two years.”
Mr Munroe said he has requested certain documents to aid in his case of defence, including the criminal records of the detainees.
“At the end of the days, you don’t do this to your service men. You see the American government closed down and one of the only class of people who are still being paid are the service men. So we just don’t get it,” he said.
“They (the accused marines) feel like we just don’t get it. They trained with American marines. They trained with the English marines. They trained with their counterparts all over the world. In those countries, they get it. We don’t get it. We don’t get that when you tell somebody your job is to kill and to be killed, that requires a certain level of support of those persons and their families. Well, we just don’t get that.”
Mr Munroe added: “We represent all of them and if the government doesn’t wish to pay their legal fees, then I’m not going to cause these men to disrupt their financial circumstances to pay me, because I’m not about to leave them undefended... I regard all of the people who aren’t standing behind these men as cowards.”
The proceedings come after months of persistent protests – including a hunger-strike – by members of Miami-based, watchdog group, the Democracy Movement.
In leaked Defence Force documents, a young marine admitted that on the direction of superiors, he punched, kicked and beat unresisting Cuban detainees with a stick until they screamed, in what is described in official investigation documents as a “frenzied” attack at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. He later denied his statement.
The beatings – to which an officer has confessed according to the leaked interrogation reports – did not occur during an escape attempt, but later, after the escapees had already been recaptured and restrained. Some detainees were only identified after guards searched through the male population looking for cut palms, which could have suggested a struggle with barbed wire.
The Tribune has formally applied to Royal Bahamas Defence Force to be allowed to cover the proceedings against marines accused of abusing Cuban detainees. There has been no response to the request from RBDF officials.